13-A Back In the Spotlight
By Easwaran Rutnam
Signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord
The visit to Colombo last week by Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, British Minister of State Hugo Swire and the scheduled visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al Hussein has put the 13th Amendment to the Constitution back in the spotlight.
Jaishankar, during his meeting with the Tamil National Alliance in Colombo, had discussed the need for a political solution for the Tamils through the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.
Hugo Swire had also discussed the matter and Zeid Al Hussein is expected to draw attention to this as well since it is in the resolution on Sri Lanka adopted by the UN Human Rights Council last October.
The resolution welcomes the commitment of the government of Sri Lanka to a political settlement by taking the necessary constitutional measures, encourages the government’s efforts to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population; and also encourages the government to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
Chairman of the AkhilaIlankai Tamil Mahasabha, Dr. K. Vigneswaran, speaking to The Sunday Leader, said that the full implementation of the 13th Amendment is a must.
However, he noted that the current Tamil leadership is not very serious about the 13th Amendment despite raising a strong voice on it in the past.
Dr. K. Vigneswaran says he had even discussed the 13th Amendment issue with Northern Province Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran and he had agreed that the 13th Amendment is the way forward.
“He was very serious about the 13th Amendment. We feel all issues can be resolved under the 13th Amendment,” Dr. K. Vigneswaran said. The AkhilaIlankai Tamil Mahasabha supported Wigneswaran at the last Northern provincial council elections.
However Dr. K. Vigneswaran says the initial interest shown by Wigneswaran on the 13th Amendment seems to have taken a natural death.
More focus on extremist ideas
The AkhilaIlankai Tamil Mahasabha feels that Wigneswaran is now focused on more extremist ideas while the TNA has its own agenda and the 13th Amendment is not going to get the push it requires.
The TNA, in its election manifesto at the August Parliamentary elections last year, had said that the 13th Amendment to the constitution is flawed as power is concentrated at the Center and its agent, the Governor.
In its election manifesto, the TNA said that the Tamil people are entitled to self-determination in keeping with United Nations International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Sri Lanka has accepted and acceded to.
The TNA felt that power sharing arrangements must continue to be established as it existed earlier in a unit of a merged Northern and Eastern Provinces based on a federal structure.
The 13th Amendment came to be as a result of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene on July 29, 1987.
On November 14, 1987 Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution and the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987 to establish provincial councils.
The amendment aims at creating provincial councils and enable Sinhalese and Tamil as national languages while preserving English as the link language.
No keen interest
Past governments have however not shown keen interest in fully implementing the 13th Amendment, especially since the LTTE controlled most parts of the North and East during the war. However, even after the war, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given the UN and India an assurance that the 13th Amendment will be fully implemented but that was not to be.
Dr. K. Vigneswaran noted that with a new government now in office, there needs to be a fresh attempt to get the 13th Amendment back on the agenda. “A task force must be appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena to begin the process of full implementation of the 13thAmendment,” he said.
By devolving powers to the provinces, Dr. K. Vigneswaran said that issues on health, education and housing can be properly addressed.
Dr. K. Vigneswaran accused the TNA of deviating from addressing the core issues of the Tamils despite being elected by the people for the people.
Dr. Vigneswaran was part of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) when Rajapaksa was in power.
A wikileaks cable on May 04, 2007 by the then US embassy Charge d’Affaires James R. Moore had quoted Dr. K. Vigneswaran as telling the embassy that Tamils do not believe that devolving powers to the district level will meet their aspirations.
“Tamils fear that the Districts, whose heads are to be appointed by the President, will be subject to manipulation by the central government. Tamils believe that ‘colonization’ of their traditional areas by Sinhalese would accelerate.
Further, Vigneswaran argued, the SLFP proposal (to the APRC removes the powers of police, land and irrigation from the provinces, but replaces them with nothing. He asserted that reserving the security, land and water portfolios to the central government leaves it unclear what is left to be devolved to the districts.” the wikileaks cable quoted the US Embassy in Colombo as informing Washington.
Successive governments were concerned that giving land and police powers to the provinces could lead to the formation of a separate state in the North and East.
Dr. K. Vigneswaran, who wasa secretary to the former Chief Minister of the Eastern Province Varatharajah Perumal, however noted that former President Ranasinghe Premadasa was prepared to give land and police powers to the provinces but the move faced stiff opposition.